By Rhod Mitchell for www.CornwallLive.com
Cornish Pirates director Colin Groves talks about 15,000 crowds and playing 'sexy' rugby in the Premiership.
Sell out crowds of 15,000 to watch a Cornish Pirates team playing "sexy" rugby in the Premiership in the Stadium for Cornwall - that's the dream which Colin Groves is determined to turn into a reality. The Truro-born businessman, who is now chairman of Waikato Rugby in New Zealand, joined the Pirates board in September as part of a huge upheaval at the Mennaye Field, with the club in deep financial trouble.
They were dark days for the Greene King Championship club, but following a major shake-up at the Mennaye Field, including the crucial return of president and major benefactor Dicky Evans, better times beckon.
And Groves from Feock, who went to Truro School, before playing for Truro, Cornwall and England Colts, is confident that the Penzance-based club are back on course in the longer term for the promised land of Premiership rugby in their own Stadium, though he is realistic enough to admit that there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome for that dream to become fact.
The highly-successful businessman, a qualified accountant, said: "One thing that has not really come out is how desperate the situation was at the end of September. Basically the Pirates were bust and we would not be here now if we had all not stepped in.
"Pirates are clearly a sleeping giant and we are not going to get ahead of ourselves, as there are lot of challenges ahead, but I will be disappointed if eventually we are not getting 15,000 fans in watching us playing Premiership rugby in a proper stadium. At the moment, let's not kid ourselves, it is half a stadium for Cornwall with a capacity of 6,500.
"Cornwall has a population of half a million, with another 300,000 in Plymouth, that's 800,000 people within an hour's drive of the stadium. With the Chiefs in Waikato we started off with crowds of four to five thousand and we are now averaging 20,000 and 44 per cent of the crowd are female.
"We have no queues for the ladies' loos. It is not going to happen overnight, but the question is how do we get away from old men with pints of beer and get to the families.
"Part of the attraction is the style of rugby the Chiefs play. It's high octane, high risk, sexy rugby and that is what we want to deliver at the Pirates. The transfer of ideas has already started with New Zealand, but I think player and coach wise that is a couple of years away."
But Groves, like the rest of the Pirates hierarchy, knows that the building of the long awaited Stadium for Cornwall at West Langarth, Threemilestone, which has been dogged by obstacles and delays over the years, is key to the club's ambitious plans.
The Stadium is being led by a partnership between developer Inox Group and Henry Boot Developments, working with the Pirates, who will be tenants, and Truro & Penwith College. The development, includes new shops and restaurants plus a day nursery, new homes, community sports pavilion, play areas and sports pitches. Proceeds from the development will be used to fund the Stadium for Cornwall, together with a £2 million contribution from Truro & Penwith College.
It would house the Truro & Penwith College business centre, plus its elite sport and hospitality and catering teaching facilities, including a kitchen and restaurant open to the public.
The latest hurdle was cleared earlier this month, when a call by rival property developers for a judicial review was thrown out, but until there is a "spade in the ground" many are still to be convinced that the Stadium will ever actually be built.
New Pirates CEO Peter Child said it was hoped building of the Stadium would begin in the Spring with the Pirates playing there for the 2020-2021 season.
"It is going to be a community stadium which will benefit all of Cornwall, " he said.
The Pirates, which costs approaching £2 million to run, also plan to launch a rights issue in the new year, with the aim of bringing in up to £1.5 million to help the club move forward.
Next month, Chiefs Super Rugby chairman Dallas Fisher, founder of New Zealand's largest catering company, will be visiting Cornwall to help formulate the business plan for the Stadium.
Looking ahead to the more immediate future Groves added: "In three years time, I want the Pirates to be in the new stadium, with a sustainable business and the team playing well in the Championship. We will then take stock of where we are and how do we get on and get in the Premiership."
These are certainly exciting times for the Pirates, who are back in action this Sunday when they take on London Irish at the Mennaye Field (2.30pm) in the British & Irish Cup.
Last Sunday, they lost at London Irish who have won all 14 league and cup games this season and will be hoping to end their home 2016 programme with what would be a morale-boosting victory.